Deadly Jewish school attack shakes France

Deadly Jewish school attack shakes France

TOULOUSE, France - Hürriyet Daily News
Deadly Jewish school attack shakes France

Police conduct their investigation outside the Jewish school in Toulouse, after a man opens fire outside the school, killing four. REUTERS Photo

A motorcycle gunman killed a rabbi, his two young sons and another child when he opened fire in front of a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse yesterday, the local prosecutor’s office said.

It was at least the third motorcycle shooting in France in a week, shocking the country and prompting strong emotions and high-level discussions in Israel. The French presidential election campaign has been effectively suspended, with both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist frontrunner in the presidential race, François Hollande, canceling campaign events and rushing to Toulouse. French prosecutors are examining possible terrorist links, but the motive for yesterday’s attack was unclear.

Concerns about a serial killer emerged, as investigators examined whether yesterday’s shooting was linked to two deadly shooting attacks in the Toulouse region last week that killed three French paratroopers and left another seriously injured. French media reported that those paratroopers were of Arab origin. Sarkozy said there were striking similarities between yesterday’s shooting and the killing of the three paratroopers, Reuters reported.

Sarkozy ordered increased security at Jewish and Muslim buildings around Toulouse, while his prime minister ordered officials to “secure” all schools and religious buildings in France. “It’s a day of national tragedy,” Sarkozy said after arriving. “The barbary, the savagery, the cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win. The nation is much stronger.”

In Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said “Whether it was a terror attack or a hate crime, the loss of life is unacceptable.” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also condemned the deadly shooting.

A 30-year-old man and his 3-year-old and 6-year-old sons were killed in yesterday’s attack, just before classes started at the Ozar Hatorah school, a junior high and high school in a quiet residential neighborhood, Toulouse Prosecutor Michel Valet said. Witnesses said the man worked at the school.

Valet said another child, between 8 and 10 years old, had also been killed, and a 17-year-old was seriously injured. “He shot at everything he had in front of him, children and adults,” he said. “The children were chased inside the school.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told the Associated Press the suspect made his getaway on a dark scooter, just as the assailant or assailants did in the two shootings last week.

On March 10, a gunman on a motorbike shot and killed a paratrooper in Toulouse. On March 15, a gunman on a motorbike opened fire on three uniformed paratroopers at a bank machine in Montauban, about 50 kilometers from Toulouse, killing two and critically wounding the other. The Paris prosecutor’s office said it would investigate eventual terrorist links to yesterday’s killing and the two killings of paratroopers last week. The prosecutor’s office did not indicate any evidence so far of terrorism in its statement.

France has the largest Jewish community in Western Europe, estimated at about 500,000. France also has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, about 5 million.